Mayan Civilization (Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Sauber) [Representational Image]
Mayan Civilization (Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Sauber) [Representational Image]Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Sauber

A team of researchers have uncovered a council house in Guatemala containing altars, sculpted images of animals and incense burners. The structure is estimated to be around 700 years old. 

The house has "two colonnaded halls constructed side by side. The halls were decorated with sculpted [reptile], parrot and turtle imagery," said Timothy Pugh, a professor at Queens College in New York during an annual meeting at the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, Texas, according to Live Science. The house is located at the site of Nixtun-Ch'ich' in Petén, Guatemala.

Archaeologists believe that Chakan Itza, a Mayan group would have used the council house to hold meetings and to organise official marriage ceremonies and alliances.

"Basically almost every political and religious ritual would have been held there. The leaders who gathered there would have held power in the community and perhaps the broader region. Among the artifacts is an incense burner showing the head of Itzamna, who was the "shaman of the gods," Pugh told Live Science in an interview.

The house also had sculptures of parrot and reptile that once beautified the walls of the hallways and had two altars with turtle sculpted on them, Pugh noted. 

The Nixtun-Ch'ich' council house is about the size of 50 by 50 meters (164 by 164 feet) and is considered to be a part of flourishing settlement. Previous expeditions by archaeologists have discovered a huge ball court at the council site, which is the second largest among the Mayan world. The largest ball court of Mayan is at Chichen Itza.

It is expected that the council house was utilized during A.D. 1300 and 1500. There is also a possibility that the council house was used for sometime after A.D. 1500. During that time, it is believed that Chakan Itza decided to demolish the council house and shift the seat of power elsewhere, which they did on a regular basis depending on specific time on their calendar.

"The Maya paid close attention to time and calendars. After a certain cycle of time they would move the ruling seat to a new location," Pugh said.

In order to destroy the council house, "they basically conducted a ritual that cancelled out the power of this space. They destroyed the altars and they covered the building with a large amount of dirt" he added.

Nojpetén, the island city was the capital of the last independent Mayan kingdom and on March 1697, the Itza kingdom finally surrendered to Spanish rule. The Itza people had experienced many casualties from the defeat. However, some Itza, along with other Mayan people, continue to live today. There are about 2,000 ethnic Itza who retain some aspects of their native culture. However, the Itza language is now spoken by small group of people.